Ownership of Copper Mountain Ski Resort remains a mystery, as no one has come forward to claim it. According to the U.S. government, the resort was deeded to the U.S. Forest Service in 1968, and from there, it’s passed through various hands. In 2018, the Forest Service finally decided to put the resort up for sale, deeming it “an administrative and financial burden” as well as a safety hazard. But while no one seems to know who owns it, one thing is for certain—it’s been around for a while, and it will be missed.
An Early Owner
In the 1920s, three brothers—Dwight, Charles, and Arthur—visited Copper Mountain and fell in love with it. They decided to build a resort on the spot, which they named Arthur Hills. Soon after, they opened it up for skiing, becoming the first ski resort in the United States. The Hills brothers continued to expand their operation, building a hotel, a golf course, and more. In 1940, Arthur Hills’ daughter, Dorothy, took over the resort operations. With her parents and brothers having passed away, she became the matriarch of the family business. As with many other ski resorts, the U.S. government bought out the last of the Hills property in the 1960s. Since then, the resort has been managed by the U.S. Forest Service, which initially leased it to the Phoenix Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America.
The Hills were a well-known family in the ski industry, and their story has been told in books and films. But despite their contributions to skiing, today they are largely remembered for the legal problems that plagued the company and property for much of the 20th century. The most well-known lawsuit involved an ex-employee named Roy Hornick, who in 1939 filed a lawsuit accusing Dorothy Hills of rape. The suit was eventually settled out of court, with Hornick receiving a payment of $25,000. But the case was so sensationalized in the press that it eventually overshadowed Hornick’s own troubles with the law. In 1953, he was arrested for kidnapping and held without bail for 23 days. Two years later, he was arrested again and this time, charged with first-degree murder. The murder charge was eventually dropped, but by then, Hornick’s legal issues were beyond the point. The company had been crippled by lawsuits, and it went into bankruptcy in 1967.
A Brief Rejuvenation
After the Hills’ bankruptcy, the property lay dormant for several years. In 1983, it was bought by Barry Goldwater, a wealthy Republican Party donor who also happened to be an ex-congressman and longtime resident of Phoenix. Under Goldwater’s ownership, the resort was transformed into a more modernized entity. New snowmaking equipment was installed, along with chairlift and lodge upgrades. But perhaps the most significant change was the addition of a golf course. After seeing the success that other golf-themed resorts had, Goldwater decided that he wanted to bring golf to Copper Mountain as well. In fact, he built a whole golf empire, and it continues to this day. Since then, the price of a beer at the resort has more than doubled, from $1 to $2.50.
Goldwater was an important figure in the Phoenix community, and he used his personal fortune to support various philanthropic causes. One of his most visible and enduring legacies was the Barry Goldwater Museum, a must-see for anyone visiting the city. Unfortunately, it was in his financial struggles that followed, specifically his failed attempt to enter the casino business, that Goldwater was forced to cut corners and scam people. One of the most high-profile cases involved a popular swimming pool in Phoenix, which was defrauded of $5 million by Goldwater and his partners. They were eventually caught and convicted of racketeering.
A Mystery Buyer
But while Goldwater was able to rebrand and reorganize the resort into a viable business entity, he was not able to solve the mystery of who actually owned it. After his death in 1999, the resort passed through several other hands, with the U.S. Forest Service and Phoenix Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America both vowing to find a new owner for the property. In 2016, the Forest Service finally put the resort on the market, offering it for sale for the first time since its inception. But no one stepped up to claim ownership, and the resort was purchased by a company called Apex Ski Holdings for $5.75 million.
Apex is a publicly traded company and operates several resorts, including Jackson Hole, Idaho, and Breckenridge, Colorado. Its website boasts that it has “[bought a] broad array of leisure and resort destinations around the world,” and it intends to continue expanding. In order to finance the acquisition, Apex decided to issue a £20-million ($27.7 million) bond, a type of corporate security that is usually issued to fund infrastructure improvements at a resort.
After almost a century of mystery and intrigue, it’s safe to say that we will never know who really owned Copper Mountain Ski Resort. But that doesn’t mean we can’t look back and fondly remember a unique piece of Americana.